I recently listed 16 things Americans can do in October 2020, in advance of our November election — because we fare better mentally, emotionally, and politically when we do things, not just wring our hands. Here are 16 more things Americans can do in October. (One’s a rerun.) These include remembering things that will give us a more stable, reasonable perspective as hysteria swirls around us; engaging with others in difficult but civil ways; and preparing our minds for some things that may happen.
[Photo credit for the feature image: Wolfgang Hasselmann at Unsplash.com. The elephants are not here as partisan symbols, but because they have thick skins (see #27 below) and a reputation for remembering.]
Think Reasonably About Politics and Government
17. Remember that George Washington isn’t running. Nor is Mother Teresa or Mohandas Gandhi.
Saints rarely run for high political office. Perfect people never do — because there aren’t any. And normally only the living run, no matter how faithfully the dead may vote in some jurisdictions.
Some years’ ballots are worse than others, and we have to make the best of a bad choice. Instead of deciding which of two or more good candidates for high office is better, we end up wondering which one is the smaller or less immediate threat to American liberty and the Constitution which protects that liberty; which is more likely to have his or her excesses restrained by Congress or a mostly-partisan media; which is less likely to cower before the world’s tyrants; and so forth.
Instead of wondering which candidate for school bus driver will start the students’ day better, contributing to their education by delivering them to the front steps of the school in the best mindset to learn and explore, we have to ask which of the unkempt, odd-smelling, foul-mouthed applicants is least likely to get a fully-loaded bus stuck across the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train.
I’m afraid (as in 2020) it’s often too much to expect that the major party candidates for president have always been faithful to their own and others’ marriage vows, and have always treated the opposite sex with proper manners and respect. This is much to be regretted.
I’d like to see a day when it’s the rule, not the exception, that a major candidate will reliably and articulately tell us the truth in context, unvarnished, and unembellished. I don’t expect to see it soon. I’d like to see the day when — if that ever happens — it would be reported accurately, in context, and unspun.
We want to elect good, wise, and honest men and women to political office. As best we can, we should. But in our goodheartedness, misanthropy, or partisan loyalty, we shouldn’t be blind to any candidate’s real faults or virtues. Everyone I’ve ever seen on a ballot is a fairly fraught mix of both.
18. As much as possible, judge people and policies by their fruits, not just their stated intentions.
Some will recognize this as a Biblical principle: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” That’s where I got it — but it has merit for people who don’t embrace the New Testament or its Main Character.
There are limits, of course. It’s impossible to judge an idea’s fruits, if it hasn’t been implemented somewhere before. Once it has, we can ask questions like these:
- Does a program created to reduce poverty actually reduce poverty?
- Does a law meant to reduce gun violence actually have that effect? Is it even enforced, so we might know its effects? (Some federal gun laws are passed as a symbolic gesture, then go unenforced.)
- Does a law aimed at reducing vehicle emissions actually reduce vehicle emissions? The textbook case here is the use of ethanol with gasoline. You get slightly lower emissions per gallon of fuel burned, but your gas mileage is lower, so you have to burn more fuel. You end up polluting more, not less.
- Do the troops we deployed to a given nation actually advance the peace and freedom of that nation or ours?
- Does a candidate, official, or party say one thing and do another? (Say, condemn violence while funding it or at least refusing to oppose it?)
If we know some things about the world and pay attention to history, we’re not helpless with new proposals or with new programs which haven’t accumulated a discernible track record. Does a proposal or program seem realistic in its expectations of human nature? Are there clear incentives which seem to lead away from the desired result?
Politics and government are a fertile field for unintended consequences, but after a while, a lot of them are predictable, if we pay attention, do the math, and don’t get too giddy in our assumptions about human nature.
19. Look at issues and plans more than personalities.
Personalities matter, but sometimes the best person for a job is not the most gracious or congenial. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was uniquely suited to lead a long, sorely needed British economic recovery, and to team with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II in helping Soviet communism walk off a historical cliff. When the Soviet press called her “the Iron Lady,” the nickname stuck for a reason. Even before her political career, a personnel department rejected her for a job as a research chemist, because it found her “headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated.” She’d be the life of a debate, perhaps, but maybe not your first choice of companion for a frothy, relaxing day off at the spa.
She wasn’t always good for others’ self-esteem. She was fearless and well-prepared in debate, to the point that a political rival observed, “Once she opened her mouth, the rest of us began to look rather second-rate.” Some might even question her religious credentials, despite her strict Wesleyan Methodist upbringing. In her youth she’s said to have told a friend that she couldn’t believe in angels, because she calculated they would need breastbones six feet long to support their wings. (Some details here are from Wikipedia.)
But back to the present, on the American side of the pond.
What do you think the biggest problems are in America? How and to what extent can they be solved or exacerbated by government (specifically American government, such as it is)? Which ones will you help solve, and how, by electing your candidate and defeating the opponent(s)?
It doesn’t matter in the least which candidate you’re rather join for a beer.
20. Broaden your reading, listening, and viewing of politics and government.
Don’t expect objectivity from anyone, including your own side, if you have one. (The word “side” is a subtle clue there.) If and when you find objectivity, celebrate it, but expect to make your own evaluations based on all the voices you hear.
This means you need to hear voices from positions not your own. When you do, don’t feel like you have to triangulate, or adopt a view halfway between two opposing sides. Sometimes that’s a worse position than either side. But it helps to know all sides of an important issue.
So read, listen, and watch across a broader political spectrum. This may involve longer attention than you’ve been paying, or simply more time reading things you don’t already agree with and less time reading your side. For other reasons, I find it helpful to limit my immersion in politics to an hour or two a day — but I haven’t narrowed my scope. I still read from Left to Right and back again.
21. Be aware of the administrative state.
In civics classes — where they still exist — the federal government has three branches: legislative (Congress), executive (the President and various agencies and departments), and judicial (the courts).
In modern practice there’s a fourth branch: the administrative state, a.k.a. the bureaucracy, which is most of what we usually consider the executive branch. Created by Congress, it is only partially under Congressional influence. Mostly subordinate to the President in principle, in practice it may be only superficially responsive to his policies and directives. Lately we’ve seen parts of it openly defiant of the elected Chief Executive.
No president fully controls the executive branch. Certain agencies are independent by law, and the giant administrative state as a whole — the swamp, if you choose to call it that — has a life of its own. Even an elected president cannot cross it seriously without vicious backlash.
Remember all those witnesses at the recent House Judiciary Committee impeachment trial, who seemed more upset that President Trump was contravening “the established foreign policy of the United States” than they were about that creatively interpreted phone call to Ukraine? He’s the elected President of the United States, the nation’s chief foreign policy officer. He’s the one who establishes our foreign policy — but they think they do. To some of them, elections shouldn’t matter, if they’re held at all. They do not wish to be, and they largely are not, accountable to the people from whom their power derives.
Remember that when you evaluate candidates and issues — not just the current president in the current election.
22. Recognize modern threats to freedom which do not come from government.
Modern attacks on basic American freedoms don’t require government. With the aid of Big Tech, people are losing their jobs and reputations for current and past social media posts expressing mainstream views. It’s increasingly evident that major social media platforms suppress views they don’t like, in the name of fact-checking or blocking hate speech — and the definition of “hate speech” expands as needed, to include even mainstream conservative thought.
Businesses are destroyed too, when the Twitter mob in particular escapes cyberspace and invades physical reality.
The NBA allows approved leftist slogans to be worn on players’ game jerseys, but nothing from the right or center, such as tributes to slain heroes who wore a different uniform. They’re also publicly more deferential to the Chinese government than to the American government.
Just this week, Yelp announced that it will start flagging businesses “accused of racist behavior.” There is no promise or expectation of due process; likely an unfounded accusation will do. Accordingly, certain leftists immediately began collecting lists of businesses to submit to Yelp, claiming they are racist — for not paying tribute (protection money) to Black Lives Matter and similar offenses.
There are thorny legal and philosophical questions to address, before we develop a clear sense of what a proper American government should do to combat such abuses of citizens by non-government entities. In the meantime, shouldn’t we at least have second thoughts about giving these intolerant forces majority political power in our governments?
23. Don’t put too much stock in fact-checking or carefully curated sound bites.
Audio and video clips can be and often are edited to deceive. (Any attempt to offer examples here would be partisan.) When we can, let’s read or watch the whole speech or statement before we pass judgment or get upset.
The way most fact checking works gives the rest of it a bad name — more often because they’re not checking factual assertions; less often because the fact-checkers get the facts wrong.
Real fact checking requires a factual assertion, something a candidate or other person or group represents as a fact. For example, in the recent train wreck that was the first 2020 presidential debate, President Trump claimed he has the endorsement of a certain sheriff in Arizona. Vice President Biden said COVID-19 deaths, not just cases, are spiking. These are factual assertions.
Once there is an assertion of fact, you can check it. Has that particular sheriff endorsed Trump? He says no. Are COVID-19 deaths spiking in the US? The CDC has them declining, even as case numbers soar.
If it’s a promise for the future, a prediction, or an opinion or other subjective expression, it’s not an assertion of fact, and you can’t legitimately fact-check it. You can spin and opine and explain and obfuscate, but you can’t fact-check something that’s not a factual assertion.
I think we should fact-check a lot. But we can’t be lazy and rely on others to do it for us, because media fact-checking is mostly a partisan exercise.
24. Give fellow humans the benefit of the doubt.
You know how frustrated you get when someone assumes the worst of you in some situation? Don’t assume the worst of people. You’ll occasionally be right, if you do, but the odds aren’t good.
What if President Trump tells the truth sometimes, instead of lying all the time? What if he loves not just himself, but also America, at least in the sense that he loves being an American? What if Joe Biden wants the best for his family in other ways, not just enriching them? What if Mitch McConnell doesn’t eat newborn puppies for his weekly Friday power lunch? What if Nancy Pelosi is kind to houseplants and small humans, even off camera?
There is evil enough in the world, and to spare. But statistically speaking, no matter how much you loathe someone, the odds are near zero that he or she is the incarnation of evil. If your response to someone starts to feel over the top, temper it. We’re adults. We do that.
Unnumbered Bonus: Get a Freedom Habit bumper magnet.
As of this writing, I have a few dozen bumper magnets to give away. While they last, message me and we’ll figure out how to get you one — or more, if you want to pass some around. If you can afford to help with postage, that’s welcome. If you can’t, I’ll send you one anyway, while they last (within the United States).
It’s a bumper magnet, not a sticker. You can take it off before you go places where it might get your car keyed or tires slashed, and when others drive your vehicle who don’t share the sentiment.
Prepare Your Mind for the Future
25. Prepare for the possibility that you might be wrong about something or someone.
This one’s scary but commonplace, at least for me.
What if I find out, days or years down the road, that I was wrong about something or someone? Besides whatever regret or humiliation I might experience for being wrong, what will I wish I hadn’t said or done for other reasons?
What relationships will I wish I hadn’t jeopardized or destroyed, if I turn out to be wrong? Or even if I’m right?
Perhaps I should think twice before saying or doing some things.
You may find room for humility here, as I do. Even when I’m sure I know what the problems are, and I know likely theoretical or historical solutions, I’m far less certain how to address them with policy which could actually be adopted in the real world. Often enough, I’m simply stumped.
26. Refuse to believe your identity is Victim.
My life has been filled with blessings, great and small. Yet some things have gone wrong — seriously and irrevocably wrong in some cases. I bear some or even most of the blame — but there’s enough participation by others that I could easily blame them.
In some things, I have blamed others — for long periods. It doesn’t help.
Believing that I am primarily the victim of forces beyond my control is a great way to avoid facing responsibility for my role in my misfortunes. It is a positive hindrance to overcoming them.
Playing the victim may win me attention and sympathy, but taking responsibility for my actions, words, and desires makes me more useful to myself, my family, and my community.
I’m easier to manipulate and enrage, if I see myself as a victim. In the political realm, I’m more likely to advocate the suppression of others’ free speech, among other liberties, and even the overthrow of government.
(If you want to explore the victim mindset, here’s a good article in Psychology Today.)
If you think about it, doing things — in October or otherwise — is itself an antidote to feeling victimized. We are agents who act, not creatures to be acted upon.
27. Keep a thick skin.
I’m sorry to say, we need a thick skin for adulthood, the more so for self-government. It helps with childhood and adolescence too.
As soon as you begin telling people what you think — or sometimes if you refuse to — some of them will call you names, on social media and to your face. Even in print. Even at home.
The name-calling can come from both your left and your right. I’ve been called a fascist and a socialist for the same expression of the same opinion.
I’ve been called unchristian or a bad Mormon (we officially prefer “bad Latter-day Saint” again) for supporting the same local or national candidate whom others insisted I should support because of my faith.
For years I’ve been called a racist for being white, for being politically conservative, and for believing, with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that we should judge fellow humans by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
Obviously, don’t be a racist (in the sane definition). But don’t be too disturbed when people call you one anyway, to justify their own political agenda or to silence you.
Besides, it could always be worse. President Trump could tweet nastily about you — or praise you and bring down an avalanche of invective from the other side. Imagine how you’d feel if your name were hydroxychloroquine.
28. Expect to see some violence and electoral chaos in November, December, and possibly January.
I expect trouble, though I don’t know how much. When one side or other isn’t promising mayhem, they’re telling us the other side is planning it.
Don’t contribute to it. Don’t defend it. Try to be very difficult to offend — and thus harder to manipulate. And don’t cast your votes to appease thugs and their overlords who make you feel like a hostage. We’ll have trouble no matter how we vote.
Looking specifically at the presidential election, here are a few things to watch for. If you see them, we’re in some degree of trouble. (Before I list them, remember that counting votes, appointing electors to the Electoral College, etc., are primarily state, not federal, functions. We’ll speak of this soon.)
- Judges ordering the acceptance of mail-in ballots without postmarks or signatures, or with other procedural flaws which undermine their validity.
- Attempts to move the date by which states must appoint their electors to the Electoral College, or the date when the Electoral College meets by law.
- Any attempt to change election law after the election has occurred (or after voting has begun) — as we saw in 2000, when the US Supreme Court had to restrain the Florida Supreme Court from changing the rules after the fact.
- Violence that goes unchecked or is even encouraged by government officials.
- Supposedly spontaneous protests which show planning, coordination, and funding.
I’m not saying election law is perfect, or that I think most jurisdictions have the staff and procedures in place to handle an avalanche of mail-in ballots. It will be messy. But if states and smaller jurisdictions are legitimately trying to obey their own laws, and if they’re required to, then the final electoral result, whatever it is, will have some legitimacy.
There is always some voter fraud; anyone who says otherwise is selling something. But if we can avoid getting it in Costco-size packages, we’ll be sort of okay, I think.
29. Prepare to stand up, and to stand peacefully with others.
This one may be a tad grim.
I don’t know how much of the violence some have promised (or threatened) is actually being planned. I don’t know how much of what is planned will take place. Nor do I know to what extent either major party will attempt to undermine the legitimate results of the election — as each party assures us the other is preparing to do on a massive scale.
Have you noticed that most of the things we worry about don’t happen? Then again, this is 2020, when most of the things … do happen.
Prepare to stand up — with our words at least. With our bodies if necessary. We may have to exert swift, overwhelming political pressure on our governors, state legislatures, or city or county officials, for example. We may have to stand in front of the police in some cases — it’s been done — to protect them when their command structure and rules of engagement won’t. We may have to stand somehow between “[our] loved homes and the [mob’s] desolation.” Some already have, in this year’s leftist unrest — and often it has worked.
How is this part of my discussion nonpartisan? As much as the present violence and the threats of post-election violence have come from the Left, there are violent hard-Right folks out there too, and either side is historically willing to exploit chaos created by other. So, at least in theory, either side could come to your neighborhood in circumstances where the only immediate hope for defense is self-defense.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. It probably won’t, in most places around the country, including your city and neighborhood. But it will happen somewhere. Some folks have promised it, and others fervently hope they’ll keep their word, as they seem inclined to do this year.
Speak Up, If You Can
30. Tell people how you’re voting and why — and soon.
This one is difficult for many of us.
If you can do so without losing your job, your family, or your home, tell people how you’re going to vote and why.
(I’ll tell you for myself soon. No matter what I say, some of you will find it unthinkable. The kinder ones will wonder how someone like me could forsake all reason, morality, etc., and cast whatever votes I end up casting. I don’t enjoy that, but I’m used to it. I’ve been an opinionated American all my life.)
Why speak up in this way? It helps you consolidate and even analyze your own views — and it might prompt people to share theirs, ideally in a civil manner. We need more of that, and it can be instructive. It also helps people who won’t or can’t speak up (like this woman in Arizona, and no doubt others from the other side). It helps them realize they’re not alone.
It’s good for that thick skin too. (See #27 above.)
Perhaps best of all, engaging in civil discourse when we disagree may helpfully remind us how absurd and ugly it is to hate people over politics. And every civil conversation will advance the urgent project of knitting our civil society back together.
31. Listen when people tell you how and why they’re voting.
Listen to how other people are going to vote and why. Don’t argue. Don’t get angry. Don’t hate. Just listen. If they ask you what you think, tell them graciously, with the same degree of brevity they used, if not more.
This difficult communication not only increases the risk that we’ll learn something about issues, candidates, and each other. It decreases the risk that we’ll destroy valuable things which don’t have to be destroyed just because we’re having an election.
This One Bears Repeating
32. Don’t give up. Exert your faith, hope, and good cheer.
Don’t give up. We’ve survived elections before. If you’ve read your history, you know some of them got a little dicey, including some of our earliest presidential elections. The 1800 election was decided between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who tied in electoral votes, on the 36th ballot of the House of Representatives.
Whoever wins in November/December/January, Americans who love American freedom will have a struggle ahead. It’s not a new struggle. Its nature and intensity may be different, depending on the results.
The end of all our struggles is not soon. It may not even be here. But a lot of good people have joined the struggle to remain free, and more will join it yet (whichever side you think that is, if it’s either side). And if you’ll pardon me for sounding religious for a moment — I am religious — the ultimate end of all our struggles is good.
So be of good cheer, as much as you can.
Thanks for reading!
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